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Sept. 24 2017 9:07 PM

Trump Expands Travel Ban to Include Restrictions on Venezuelans, North Koreans

The Trump administration unveiled the next step of its travel ban on Sunday, when the existing ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries was set to expire. A new proclamation issued by President Donald Trump expands the list of affected countries to eight: Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, Chad, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. The list includes three additions—Venezuela, North Korea, and Chad—and one subtraction—Sudan. Although Iraq isn’t officially part of the list, the presidential proclamation does state that citizens from that country will be subject to additional scrutiny.

Not all the countries will face an outright ban. While pretty much all travel to the United States from seven countries will be blocked, the restrictions will depend on their level of cooperation with U.S. security standards as well as the threat that the administration believes each country presents. The restrictions on Venezuelans, for example, largely affect government officials and their relatives.

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The inclusion of North Korea and Venezuela on the list means the restrictions have been expanded beyond Muslim-majority countries. But the ACLU isn't buying it. One of the strongest opponents to the travel ban from the beginning said shortly after the presidential proclamation was released that the fundamentals of the initial Muslim ban have not changed.

“Six of President Trump’s targeted countries are Muslim. The fact that Trump has added North Korea — with few visitors to the U.S. — and a few government officials from Venezuela doesn’t obfuscate the real fact that the administration’s order is still a Muslim ban,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “President Trump’s original sin of targeting Muslims cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list.”

The White House seems to have at least somewhat learned from its earlier chaotic implementation of the ban and said it would phase in the new restrictions that will take effect on Oct. 18. The restrictions also won’t affect anyone who already holds a U.S. visa.

For the past three months, the administration has used an executive order to ban pretty much all travelers from six Muslim-majority countries unless they had a “bona fide” relationship with a person or institution in the United States. Unlike the earlier ban, the new restrictions that are part of the proclamation have no time limit. “These restrictions are necessary and conditions-based, not time-based,” a senior administration official said. The United States will consider lifting restrictions if the affected countries implement tighter security and screening standards.

This marks the third version of a travel ban that the Trump administration has instituted since January. The first order was a blanket ban on citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries as well as refugees. After the courts got involved, Trump removed Iraq from the list, and the ban was limited to issuing new visas as well as refugees. The ban on refugees is set to expire on Oct. 24, and it still isn’t clear whether that will continue.

The Supreme Court, which allowed the ban to be implemented with some restrictions after it was blocked by lower courts, is scheduled to hear oral arguments about whether the original Muslim ban is constitutional on Oct. 10.

“Making America Safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet,” Trump said in a tweet shortly after the proclamation was released.

*This post has been updated with new information since it was first published.

Sept. 24 2017 7:40 PM

Devastation From Hurricane Maria Set Puerto Rico Back “Nearly 20 to 30 Years”

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 Hurricane early Wednesday morning but the destruction it caused was so great that the full extent of the damage is only starting to come into focus. To say things are bad would be a gross understatement as some are warning of an imminent humanitarian crisis due to a lack of basic services in certain parts of the island.

So far, the death toll from the strongest storm to hit the U.S. territory in almost 90 years stands at 10 although it seems certain to rise over the coming days. Some Puerto Ricans are describing the conditions in their communities as “apocalyptic,” according to CNN. Maria killed at least 31 lives across the Caribbean.

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Authorities are now working to figure out the full extent of the damage but they’re warning it could take a long while for the island to recover. “The devastation in Puerto Rico has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years,” said Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez. “I can’t deny that the Puerto Rico of now is different from that of a week ago. The destruction of properties, of flattened structures, of families without homes, of debris everywhere. The island’s greenery is gone.”

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A woman tries to make a cellphone call on a highway near Dorado, 40 km north of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 23, 2017.

HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

Residents struggled to pick themselves up as most of the island was without cell phone service or electricity. People with relatives in the United States struggled to get a bit of cell phone service to tell their families they were doing OK. The damage to the island’s shaky power grid is so extensive that officials didn’t even dare predict when power would return and some residents are getting mentally prepared to spend up to a year without electricity. Engineers are also inspecting and warning about the possible destruction of a 90-year-old dam in northwest Puerto Rico with the government warning that it could “collapse any minute.”

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Overflow from the damaged Guajataka River Dam is seen in San Sebastian, in the west of Puerto Rico, on September 23, 2017.

HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

A group of mayors traveled to San Juan and warned that things could get worse if immediate needs are not met. “Hysteria is starting to spread. The hospital is about to collapse. It’s at capacity,” the mayor of the north coastal town of Manati said. “We need someone to help us immediately.” Around 15,000 people were thought to be in shelters across Puerto Rico.

“This is, without a doubt, the biggest catastrophe in modern history for Puerto Rico in terms of the damage to infrastructure and in terms of damage to the island as a whole,” Governor Ricardo Rossello said. “Our consideration is not a fiscal consideration. It’s restoring people’s security and restoring normalcy.”

Even if Rossello says he’s not thinking about fiscal issues right now, there is lots of concern about how the island’s economy, which was already in a precarious state before the hurricane, will handle the billions in damages. Some have estimated Maria’s economic damage could be as much as $30 billion. “Puerto Rico is in a precarious state,” said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler at Enki Research.

Hillary Clinton took to Twitter on Sunday to criticize the Trump administration’s response to the devastation in Puerto Rico. “President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens,” Clinton wrote. Trump had said earlier in the week that Puerto Rico was “absolutely obliterated” by Hurricane Maria.

Sept. 24 2017 6:18 PM

Merkel Wins in Germany but Anti-Immigrant Far-Right Makes Big Gains

As was widely expected, Angela Merkel was re-elected to a fourth term as German chancellor on Sunday but the country’s election also saw the far-right nationalists make historic gains that likely cost her conservative coalition lots of votes. In what Der Spiegel describes as a “significant shift” for German politics, the anti-immigration, nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) surprised political analysts by winning 13.1 percent of the votes, according to the projected results. That means that a far-right party will get into Germany’s parliament for the first time in more than half a century.

If the results pan out they would represent a huge gain for AfD, which was recently polling at a paltry seven percent. Now the xenophobic party could send close to 90 lawmakers to the Bundestag.

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Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party bloc was the clear winner with 33.2 percent, almost 10 points less than five years ago and its worst result since 1949. Merkel recognized that the victory was not quite cause for celebration. “Of course, we would have preferred a better result, that is completely clear,” she said. “But we mustn’t forget that we have had an extremely challenging parliamentary term behind us.”  

Merkel’s party was not the only one that suffered. The Social Democrats (SPD) also received its worst result since the 1940s with only 20.8 percent support in what seemed to be a clear repudiation by voters of the two parties that have dominated German politics since World War II. SPD leader Martin Schulz said the results meant the end of the “grand coalition” with Merkel, calling Sunday a “bitter day” for Social Democrats.

Merkel is now likely to try to cobble together a tenuous coalition with the Greens and the pro-business liberal Free Democrats, which also surprised by receiving 10.5 percent of the vote. That party had already been part of Merkel’s coalition until 2013, when it lost all its seats in the last election. That possible three-way alliance has been widely referred to as the “Jamaica” coalition because the colors of the three parties—black, yellow, and green—match the Jamaican flag.

Alexander Gauland, one of the leaders of the AfD, vowed that “we will take our country back” and that the party “will change this country.” Beatrix van Storch, one of the party’s leaders confirmed the AfD planned to hit the ground running to change the conversation. “We'll start debates on migration, we'll start debates on Islam, we'll start debates on ever closer union,” she said.

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Opponents of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) protest on September 24, 2017 in Berlin, Germany.

Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

As supporters of the far-righ party celebrated in their headquarters, protesters gathered outside to express their rejection of the AfD and its ideals. “All Berlin hates the AfD,” yelled the protesters.  

Final results are expected early Monday morning.

Sept. 24 2017 5:16 PM

Kushner Reportedly Used a Private Email Account to Discuss Government Issues

Throughout the presidential campaign few things got Donald Trump and his supporters more riled up than aggressively attacking Hillary Clinton for using a private email server while she was secretary of state ("lock her up," they liked to chant). Now it turns out that Jared Kushner has been using a private email address to conduct government business ever since his father-in-law moved in to the White House, according to Politico. And this wasn’t just an old address that maybe some people mistakenly used to reach one of the president’s most senior advisers, it was a private email account that Kushner set up during the transition in December.

Politico says it has “seen and verified” around two dozen emails that Kushner traded with “senior White House officials, outside advisers and others about media coverage, event planning and other subjects.”

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Kushner has used the private account to trade emails with, among others, former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, and spokesman Josh Raffel.

Kushner is not denying that he uses a private email account sometimes but his lawyer blamed it on other people. “Mr. Kushner uses his White House email address to conduct White House business,” Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Kushner, said in a statement. “Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account. These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”

There is no indication that Kushner has discussed any classified material through the private email address or that he uses it more than his official White House account. Although Ivanka Trump also has an email account on the same domain as her husband, so far there is no evidence that she has used it to discuss official business.  

Sept. 24 2017 4:29 PM

Ted Cruz Is Latest GOP Senator to Come Out Against Obamacare Repeal Legislation

The Republicans are running out of time.  After seven years of promising to repeal Obamacare, it seems the GOP is headed toward failure yet again this week, unless the party leaders can somehow reverse what appears to be a growing opposition to the effort. Sen. Ted Cruz was the latest to signal his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill, noting it didn’t do enough to bring down the cost of health care.

“Right now, they don’t have my vote,” Cruz said during a panel discussion in Austin. “And I don’t think they have Mike Lee’s vote, either.” Cruz said that he and fellow senator Lee offered amendments to Graham-Cassidy that would decrease premiums but they weren’t included in the latest draft of the bill. But Cruz wasn’t all negative, saying the measure also has some “very good elements.”

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Cruz is hardly alone. Earlier on Sunday, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine made it clear she’s unlikely to support the bill either. She had previously said she was “leaning agains” the legislation but sounded more sure of her decision on Sunday, when she told CNN it was “very difficult for me to envision a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill.” Collins said she wants to see the analysis from the Congressional Budget Office before making a final decision.

With Cruz and Collins that means there are at least five Republicans in the 52-member caucus that said they wouldn’t support the bill or were at least leaning against it. Sen. Lisa Mukowski has yet to give her full support to the bill and Sens. John McCain and Rand Paul have both said they would not back the measure. With the two “no” votes from McCain and Paul, a third would doom the bill since no Democrats are expected to support the measure.

Time is running out for Republicans to get support for the bill as lawmakers only have until Saturday to pass it with a simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes.

Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy both appeared on ABC’s This Week Sunday to defend their legislation and express optimism that the bill will ultimately be approved. “We're moving forward and we'll see what happens next week. I'm very excited about it. We finally found an alternative to Obamacare that makes sense,” Graham said. “I think we're going to get the votes next week.”

Sept. 24 2017 2:57 PM

Live Blog: How NFL Players are Protesting Trump Throughout Sunday

Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests were never explicitly about Donald Trump, but, thanks to the president’s comments at an Alabama rally on Friday night (as well as an ensuing series of tweets), Trump has made sure that he will be the focus of any and all protests this NFL Sunday. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said on Friday.

At the early game played in London between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars, dozens of players took a knee and many others linked arms in solidarity. Jacksonville won 44-7, and no one was fired.

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We'll be updating this live blog with news of protests around the league as today's games unfold.

Sept. 24 2017 2:41 PM

James’ “U Bum” Tweet Is Way More Popular Than Any of the President’s Messages

President Trump likes to talk about how popular he is and how much he is liked (plus, did you know he won an election?). So surely the president is none too happy today to realize that LeBron James’ tweet insulting him is way more popular than anything he has ever written. Turns out, the basketball superstar is better at uniting Americans than the commander in chief.

It all started when Trump took to Twitter on Saturday morning to uninvite (although they weren’t actually every formally invited) the Golden State Warriors from visiting the White House to commemorate the championship. Trump specifically mentioned Stephen Curry’s public reluctance to go to the White House: “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

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Less than three hours later, LeBron James took to Twitter and hit back, calling Trump “u bum” and adding that “going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

As of Sunday afternoon, James’ message had been retweeted more than 620,000 times. That is way more than the basketball star's previously most popular post that got a paltry 111,820 retweets (“I’m not MJ, I’m LJ”).

James didn’t just beat his own record though. His “u bum” tweet is also way more popular than anything Trump has ever written in his favorite social media platform. Trump’s most popular post on Twitter was his all-caps celebration of his election victory: “TODAY WE MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” That Nov. 8, 2017 message got retweeted 335,657 times.

A few hours after his tweet, James, who was a supporter of Hillary Clinton, released a video explaining his position. "I think it's basically at a point where I'm a little frustrated, man, because this guy that we've put in charge has tried to divide us once again" James said via his digital company platform Uninterrupted. "Obviously we all know what happened with Charlottesville and the divide that caused. Now it's hit home more for me because he's now using sports as the platform to try and divide us."

Sept. 24 2017 11:23 AM

Dozens of NFL Players Take a Knee After Trump Criticizes Anthem Protests for Third Day

President Donald Trump seems to be obsessed. The commander in chief woke up Sunday morning with a hankering to fire off a series of tweets once again calling for fans to boycott the NFL “until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country.” For those keeping count that marked the third day in a row the president criticized players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence. It seemed to be a taunt that will assure any protests that were already planned for today would suddenly become much larger.

The defiance was clear in the first NFL game of the day, where players displayed a strong sense of unity as about two dozen Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars players took a knee and pretty much all the rest linked arms in solidarity. Among those joining the protest in London was Ravens Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who also took a knee. And it wasn’t just the players who displayed unity. Ravens coach John Harbaugh, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, and Jaguars owner Shad Khan locked arms with the players during the national anthem.

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The players who were kneeling then stood for “God Save the Queen,” Britain’s national anthem, although the players and coaches remained locked arm-in-arm.

On Facebook, the Jaguars published a photo with Khan at the center and a simple message: “Unity.”

The owner of the Ravens, Steve Bisciotti, also expressed support for the protesters through a statement released on Twitter during the first quarter of the game. “We recognize our players’ influence,” he said. “We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form.”

The support from the owners continues the largely negative reaction to Trump’s initial statement on Friday night during a rally in Alabama. Even some who have supported Trump in the past expressed their opposition to the president, including Patriots CEO and Chairman Robert Kraft, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” Kraft said. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities."

Trump’s three-day marathon of NFL criticism began Friday night, when he harshly criticized owners for tolerating players who he said disrespect the United States by failing to stand up for the national anthem. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said.

That statement was met with a chorus of criticism from the sports world but the commander in chief doubled down on Saturday through Twitter: "If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!" He also directly attacked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his (very mild) criticism of Trump earlier in the day. “Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country,” Trump wrote. “Tell them to stand!”

Sept. 24 2017 9:50 AM

A’s Catcher Becomes First MLB Player to Kneel During National Anthem

Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics thrust baseball straight into the controversy surrounding national anthem protests when he became the first major-league player to kneel during the national anthem on Saturday. The 26-year-old rookie catcher, who is from a military family, made it clear that part of the reason why he finally decided to drop to one knee during the national anthem was at least in part to protest comments by President Donald Trump that NFL owners should fire players who did just that.

“My decision had been coming for a long time,” Maxwell said. “The only way we can come together is by informing. ... To single out NFL players for doing this isn’t something we should be doing—I felt it should be a little more broad.” Earlier in the day, Maxwell, who is African American, criticized Trump’s comments in both Twitter and Instagram. “Our president speaks of inequality of man because players are protesting the anthem! Fuck this man!” Maxwell wrote on Instagram. He also retweeted a message that called on all NFL players to kneel for the anthem Sunday.

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Maxwell placed his hand on his heart and faced the flag during the anthem and while no one else joined him, Mark Canha, who is white, put his right hand on one of Maxwell’s shoulders. “Every fiber in my being was telling me he needed a brother today,” Canha said. The teammates hugged after the anthem was over and the A’s released a short statement of support. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive. We respect and support all our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Maxwell didn’t catch his teammates by surprise as he told them all about this decision to kneel before the game. “He was as articulate as I’ve seen him,” manager Bob Melvin said. “This wasn’t an emotional thing just today for him. Something had been leading up to it and he felt today would be the right platform to do it.”

Although the NFL has seen several players join the protest that began in September 2016, when then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem, Major League Baseball had been silent. That dynamic is hardly surprising considering the league is majority white and only 7.7 percent of players are African-American. “Professional baseball players are, by and large, a politically conservative group,” writes Jon Tayler in Sports Illustrated. “And perhaps more than any other sport, they are encouraged—or at least cautioned—not to speak their minds about politics and the world beyond the diamond.” The question now is whether others will follow Maxwell's lead.

Sept. 23 2017 6:42 PM

Will the NFL Ever Stand Up to Trump?

For a good chunk of his 71-plus years on Earth, Donald Trump desperately wanted to be an NFL owner. In the 1980s, he tried and failed to buy the Baltimore Colts, and this humiliation prompted his dalliance with the USFL. Thanks largely to his leadership, that second-tier league went bankrupt and disbanded in 1986. In 2014, Trump placed a losing bid to purchase the Buffalo Bills. Unable to make his dream of owning an NFL franchise come true, Trump settled for the presidency, a position he’s now using to take potshots at a club that never wanted him as a member.

At an Alabama rally to (kind of) endorse Luther Strange’s Senate campaign, Trump used a literal bully pulpit to demand NFL owners fire players who protest during the national anthem. “Wouldn’t you love,” the president brayed, “to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ”

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Like many low-information sports-radio callers before him, Trump naturally transitioned into complaining that the league has gotten too soft.

This was inevitable. Bashing Colin Kaepernick and “disrepectful” NFL players who make “millions of dollars” is a conservative political gambit whose laziness is surpassed only by its effectiveness. The comments Trump made in Alabama are just a continuation of what he said at a March rally in which he bragged that Kaepernick didn’t have a job in the NFL “because [owners] don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump.” He got to the White House by stoking a culture war, and, after nine months of failed governance, he has no better alternative than to beat the dead horse he rode in on.

Although he couldn’t become an NFL owner, Trump assumes (probably correctly) that he now has sway over those would-be peers. NFL owners are Trump’s base—the rich men who will eventually benefit from the tax cuts he has long promised. Eight owners donated a combined $7.25 million to help pay for Trump’s inauguration. Trump knows he can push these men around on the issue of anthem protests because they’ve already given him tacit approval to do so. By blackballing Colin Kaepernick, the NFL’s owner class aligned themselves with Trump’s side of this fight long before he stepped on that stage in Alabama.

So far, two organizations have publically rebuked the president for his remarks in Alabama. New York Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch called his remarks “inappropriate, offensive, and divisive,” and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross released a statement expressing his disappointment. Until they say otherwise, it can only be assumed that the owners of the league's 30 other teams stand with the man who may one day reduce their marginal tax rates. (Update, Sept. 24, 10:06 a.m.: Detroit Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank have released statements defending the players, and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan linked arms with players on the sideline of Sunday’s game in London during the anthem. They may not be the last.)

Trump’s opportunistic comments will spark more protests on Sunday, which was likely his aim all along. Players around the league have been taking to social media to make themselves heard, and the NFL Players Association released a statement arguing that “the balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just ‘shut up and play.’ ” They’re right, of course, and the NFL and its owners could easily fix this problem by responding in a similar manner. But they probably won’t, as history indicates they'll trip over their silk, NFL–logo–patterned Vineyard Vines neckties a hundred times before finally doing the correct thing.

Consider Roger Goodell’s lily-livered response, which neither mentions Trump by name nor brings up any of the specific issues the president brought up during his extended rant about the league.

To call that a word salad would be an insult to leafy greens. This is the language of someone who desperately wants to toe a line he’s clung to for far too long. The league should support its players and not its very worst fan, even if he happens to watch games from the White House.

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